The Economic Family in Global Context: A Case Study of Migrant Domestic Workers in Egypt

31 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2010 Last revised: 9 Dec 2010

Date Written: September 1, 2010


This essay links a particular legal case study with a broader set of questions about the “family” in global political and economic context. Part I of this essay clarifies the analytic links between the household, the market and globalization. By studying Egypt, the essay focuses on one part of this global sociolegal continuum and draws out the special significance of transnational background rules and conditions for the “developmental state.” Part II presents my case study of the legal framework affecting labor conditions of sub-Saharan African women who are migrant domestic workers in Egypt, and particularly the legal framework that affects their ability to bargain in securing livelihood strategies. Domestic and international law fail to provide adequate assistance and support for these efforts, but they indelibly construct the environments for them: “foreground” rules of employment and contract law (but not family law) affect the bargaining environment for migrant domestic workers; “background” rules, most importantly those related to sovereignty and immigration, also crucially influence the bargaining environment. Part III returns to the conceptual landscape, connecting this study with critical understandings of the “economic family” and current quandaries in “global governance” studies. In conclusion, the household is not only an economically significant site, but is also linked to patterns of globalization: governance of the household constitutes an aspect of “global governance,” and vice versa. Such a conclusion may require rethinking some assumptions about gender roles and power dynamics that have characterized legal theories of the family.

Keywords: Egypt, women, domestic, labor, migrant, globalization, governance

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Chantal, The Economic Family in Global Context: A Case Study of Migrant Domestic Workers in Egypt (September 1, 2010). American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 58, 2010, Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-009, Available at SSRN: or

Chantal Thomas (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States


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